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An empty classroom in Pinole, Calif. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Elementary school students in the U.S. ended the school year four to five months behind their expected level of academic achievement, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Months of school closures and often inferior remote education eroded what schoolchildren would have learned since the pandemic began, and caused some to go backwards.

  • The effects of pandemic-driven learning loss will weigh on the economy for decades ahead, and could worsen if schools can't reopen normally in the fall.

By the numbers: Researchers from McKinsey compared academic achievement for K-12 students after the 2020-21 school year to matched students from previous years, and found that students were testing 10 points behind in math and 9 points behind in reading on average.

  • The numbers were worse for historically disadvantaged students — students in majority Black schools ended the year with six months of unfinished learning, while students from low-income schools finished seven months behind.

The big picture: The authors wrote that "unless steps are taken to address unfinished learning, today’s students may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetime owing to the impact of the pandemic on their schooling."

  • That translates to an impact on the U.S. economy of $128 billion to $188 billion every year as these students enter the workforce.

Between the lines: More time spent in remote education correlated to worse outcomes — students in more urban schools fell further behind students at rural schools, which returned to in-person education faster.

What to watch: How successful efforts to close the learning gap over the summer prove to be, and whether schools can reopen for full-time in-person education even as the Delta variant — and lagging vaccination rates — cause COVID-19 case numbers to rise.

Go deeper

Education Department investigating Texas mask mandate ban

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left) and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Photos: Montinique Monroe and Win McNamee via Getty Images

The Education Department is investigating Texas' ban on mask mandates and its possible violation of disability rights.

Why it matters: Texas is one of several states under investigation for mask mandate bans that have impacted schools across the U.S.

Sep 22, 2021 - Health

Minority-serving institutions to help create pipeline for more diverse public health workforce

President Joe Biden speaks while meeting with Latino community leaders at the White House in early August. Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ten minority-serving higher-ed institutions will be awarded about $75 million to recruit and teach Black, Latino, Native American, AAPI and other students of color in public health professions to foster better representation in tackling future public health emergencies, the Biden administration will announce Wednesday.

Why it matters: Outdated technology infrastructure and messy data collection during the pandemic fueled misinformation and prevented real-time action for hardest-hit and highest-risk communities.

Mike Allen, author of AM
Sep 21, 2021 - Health

Manufacturers warn COVID rapid test shortages are coming

At-home COVID-19 test. Photo: Abbott via AP

Manufacturers are warning that the U.S. is, at best, weeks away from the production levels needed for President Biden's plan of mass-scale rapid COVID-19 testing.

The big picture: The U.S. has been far more cautious than places like Britain about embracing rapid, at-home testing, AP notes.